The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 7, No 3 (2003)

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Mirrors &
Windows


If Only It Were Science Fiction...

Julia Michaels


Julia Michaels is a 23 year old library assistant. She has lived in places as diverse as New Zealand and the former Yugoslavia. She lives in the Philadelphia area and haunts the Rutgers University listserv for Children's Literature.


The genre of horrifying, prophetic science fiction has a rich and powerful history, from War of the Worlds to 1984 to Neuromancer. However, no such book has ever managed to unsettle and unnerve me quite as much as M.T. Anderson's Feed has. I think the reason Feed is as frightening as it is for me is because when I read it, I don't see science fiction. I don't see what might conceivably happen some years down the road. I see now.

Admittedly, I'm a little painfully close to the subject. My high school experiences are barely six years behind me, they might as well have been Anderson's source material for Feed. When my family and I first moved to our current area from Vancouver, B.C., the high school I was to attend (which shall remain nameless lest anyone there take my savage attacks personally) was ranked among the top five public schools in the country. Yet from the behavior and vocabulary of most of my fellow students, the world of Feed was already in existence. These were supposedly very bright, privileged kids, but they couldn't seem to read aloud any passages with three-syllable words, or look past the fact that Daddy had bought them the wrong color BMW to see that anything else in the world existed. They bought their Abercrombie & Fitch, their Tommy Hilfiger, their Versace -- then they threw their fancy designer clothes out within a year because they were "so out of style". Attitudes like this can't be blamed on the teachers at that school -- the teachers were for the most part extremely intelligent and involved. The problem is the culture.

There's no one culprit that can be pointed to as The Big Villain. Television shortens children's attention spans, desensitizes them to human suffering, and bombards them relentlessly with advertisements in the form of programming and programming in the form of advertisements. Corporate America invades work, school, and home, pushing empty materialism and the need to get the newest, the latest, the most of everything. Schools teach kids how to memorize facts for exactly as long as it takes to pass a test, and how to get the top grades by any means necessary -- go ahead, boys and girls, plagiarize, cheat, lie -- just don't get caught and don't let your GPA drop, and we won't mind. Many parents don't care whether their kids are ethical, or even whether they're learning anything, as long as they're getting good grades and getting into the "right" schools and getting high-paying jobs to give the parents a vicarious sense of achievement. And manufactured teen-pop and other corporate-created music teaches kids to seek money and possessions and sex, and never mind how the rest of the world is doing.

As a result, we live in a nation of stupid people. No, not you. You're actually reading something other than TV Guide. But most people these days are just plain stupid. Like the zombie excuses for people in Feed, they have access to any information they could ever want, but they have no knowledge, no understanding, and no desire for either. The decline is visible in every facet of our nation. We have a president who doesn't know basic geography and says things like, "One of the common denominators I have found is that expectations rise above that which is expected." We have a populace who voted for a man like this in sufficient numbers that the race was close enough for him to cheat his way into office. No-one but the fringe leftists seems to object to our senseless war with Iraq, nor does anyone even seem to remember that it is still going on. "Reality" shows are the pinnacle of our entertainment media. Cancer and AIDS run rampant across the globe, and people pin on colored ribbons, feel good about their "compassion", and forget that anything's happening. The environment must have repaired itself spontaneously ten years ago, for all the attention it's gotten lately. And through it all, atrocities beyond belief are being committed in hundreds of nations all around the world, and if anyone (apart from a select few bleeding hearts) in this nation even knows it's happening, they don't seem to want to do anything about it.

So the only question is, how is the world we live in today any different from the world portrayed in Feed? Okay, so we don't have our computers directly plugged into our central nervous systems yet. We still have to carry them. But we're getting there. Mysterious lesions haven't become widespread enough to be trendy yet... but injecting botulism into your face has. Schools aren't all outright owned by corporations yet... because the buyouts only started a couple of years ago and it will take them a while to buy all the schools. Teenagers don't really focus all their energy on filling the voids in their empty lives with constant shopping, repeated image changes to keep up with the cool kids, hideously dangerous mind-destroying drugs, and empty sex... except that a scarily high proportion of them do. Corporate conglomerates don't track our every purchase and try to custom-tailor their ad bombardments to our individual vulnerabilities yet... oh, wait, yes they do. Our access to health care isn't determined by our income and spending power... oh, wrong again. It is. The only potential inaccuracy I can see in Anderson's vision is that I don't know if a real-life Titus will ever be able to say, "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."

I doubt we'll be motivated enough to colonize the moon.

A brief afterword: in order to get the correct quote from Feed without it close at hand, I went to a certain bookselling website which shall remain nameless except that it's named after a tribe of female warriors or a river in South America. While I was looking up the book to get the excerpt, which had the quote, I was given the option to click to buy the book about 10 times. And as I scrolled down past the excerpt, this helpful and intelligent website had five more books which it would be glad to sell me, since my buying and browsing habits showed that I'd probably like them.

Now who wants to argue with me when I say that the world of Feed has already come to pass?

 

Julia Michaels

 

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Volume 7, Issue 3, The Looking Glass, September, 2003

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"If only it were Science Fiction ..." © Julia Michaels, 2003.
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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680